While veterans of all generations have a positive view of their military service, only one-in-five feels the government treats them well; less than half say they get the medical and support benefits they were promised.
These are some of the major findings of Disabled American Veterans “DAV Veterans Pulse Survey” in 2015, representing America’s 22 million veterans and the largest, most comprehensive assessment to date of how vets view their military experience, benefits and overall quality of life.
Just 38 percent of veterans say that when they re-entered civilian life, they had the support they needed — from mental and medical health to employment, finances, and housing. Half don’t feel the government provides sufficient or accessible health care, and 87 percent say that the federal government should do so.
So in honor of Veterans Day, I asked Aaron Grigsby, one of Hayden’s own. Sgt. Grigsby is a disabled vet who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He came home with eight service awards, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor.
(He’s also distantly related to Abraham Lincoln. His ancestor, Aaron Grigsby of Kentucky, was married to the president’s sister.)
What do you feel is the greatest issue facing today’s vets?
“We need a better VA system. A lot of guys coming home aren’t getting the services they need — 22 people a day committing suicide, with long VA wait times,” he said.
“I mean the right kind of access. The VA is known to be kind of a pill mill, just dope ’em up not really help them. Everybody promises that when we go, but we shouldn’t have to wait months, sometimes even years, to see a doctor.”
Grigsby himself is non-emergent, but waited seven years for a specialist appointment for chronic knee issues — too many jumps from low altitude as a paratrooper, he said.
“If funding is the problem, why don’t they let us use Tricare insurance, and still see doctors in our area? There are vets who have to drive hours away to see a VA doctor. When I first got out I had Tricare, but no local doctor in Idaho would accept it. Not a single one.”
What do you wish the average American understood better about life as a U.S. veteran?
“There needs to be a better understanding of what these guys went through, and their mental health. More people need to learn about how PTSD affects these guys, so people know how to act and can help if they see the symptoms,” he said.
“You hear about some guys getting in trouble with the law for example, and I think if people better understood, including law enforcement, what the symptoms are, they could get them help.
“That stigma needs to go away. It’s too hush-hush. Some (veterans) are afraid to say anything because people will think they’re messed up or weird. I think that would prevent a lot of these suicides and problems.
“They’re scared to get judged — they’re not that ‘bad ass soldier’ anymore.”
What are Americans doing right for veterans?
“Americans are doing a lot right,” he said. “There are hundreds of private organizations and charities that vets can come home and reach out to.”
When first discharged, Grigsby had no home, car, or other resources. He said he’ll be grateful lifelong to private organizations and individuals in North Idaho who helped him change all that in quick order.
“The general public is damn good to vets nowadays. I’ve had — minus the VA problems — no negative experiences since coming home. Americans do a great job caring about veterans.”
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who appreciates the sacrifices all veterans make. Email: email@example.com